What is a tuning shop exactly? The answer to such a question is something highly debatable. Right off the bat the answer may be, a place that upgrades a car’s performance. But there’s obviously more to it than that. Let’s take a look at the shop itself. It’s the space where everything comes together: cars, technicians, tools and data, the end result of their collaboration.
To get even more specific, consider Japanese tuning shops. I’ve always envisioned them as the essence of organized chaos. They can usually be found occupying the ground floor of a multi-story building, serving various purposes, typically unrelated to cars. Sometimes tuning shops are situated on main roads, but usually they’re down an alley or an unassuming neighborhood street. Forget about driveways and parking lots, there’s usually no room for either. One, maybe two cars occupy the space between the entrance and the street. There are always vending machines too, all serving different purposes: drinks, smokes and even food. In fact, Japanese tuning shops have so many similarities, you could almost write a handbook on them.
If you read my feature on Top Secret, then you already have a pretty good idea of how Japanese tuning shops operate. The workload is split between customer cars and the shop’s demo cars. Each needs to be up to the highest standard because they both directly affect one another. It can become confusing how these builds are even possible. Too look inside a Japanese tuning shop would reveal a maze of tools, unused parts and empty shells. These shops are pack rats in their finest form, throwing away nothing. Yet somehow it all works out and business gets done.
What happens when you break out of the mold? Few shops have been able to do it in recent years. But for those who have tapped into the right market, business is good. Maybe you already know a thing or two about Midori. They’re famed for their Skyline builds and now the shop is focusing much of it’s attention on the R35 GT-R. It comes as no surprise that it’s a win-win, to tailor your business to the GT-R market. The car has proven to be a big hit across the globe and given it’s price tag, it’s invited a wealthier clientele to enter the Japanese tuning scene.
This brings us back to the discussion of Japanese tuning shops and breaking out of the mold. Midori has done it by moving into a state of the art facility, last February.
No one has moved in yet, but this spotless operating room is where the car surgery will take place. The polished green floor pays homage to the shop’s name and provides a stark contrast to the typical, oil-laden concrete of the average shop’s floor. Air conditioning units in the ceiling provide a constant stream of cool air so the garage doors can be closed, while work continues on hot days. It’s a technology we all take for granted, but it’s something fairly uncommon in most shops.
It may not look like it, but the maintenance area has enough room for 3 vehicles and resembles a space, lab technicians would be more at home in.
All the the real magic happens in the engine assembly room. The climate controlled space has air purifiers in the ceiling, to remove dirt and dust that may interfere with an engine assembly.
A GT-R found it’s way home. Things are tight, but in a country like Japan, space is a very precious commodity. You take what you can get and that goes for everyone, including shops.
Midori’s new shop is small and may not be in the same league as industry giants like Trial, Phoenix’s Power and Top Secret. These shops are more like car dealerships with large spaces, many lifts and bays for multiple cars to be worked on at once. But in Midori’s case, their new shop represents something we haven’t seen a lot lately, expansion. The workspace may be no bigger, but the technology has changed. The approach to modifying cars has evolved to a more sophisticated level. No longer is it about greasers wearing coveralls and turning wrenches (even though that’s badass), it’s about technicians using computers and technologies to make cars perform better. As modern cars grow more advanced, the modern mechanic needs to grow more intelligent as well.
In many ways, tuning shops are even more important than the cars that they produce. In fact, they hold an extremely crucial role in Japan’s automotive market. Most enthusiasts in Japan don’t live in single-family homes, let alone have a garage to park their cars in. As a result, most people don’t have the resources (or knowhow) to work on their cars themselves. For this reason, tuning shops are a crucial element to the Japanese car life. Here in the states, most of us have garages or friend’s houses where we can do the work ourselves. For us, taking the car to the shop, can mean bad things to come. In Japan it’s the opposite. Customers form relationships with shops and technicians. The shops provide the same care to customer’s cars as they do their own. Loyalty is also a very big factor. If Phoenix’s Power builds your Supra, you’re not going to have it tuned at Top Secret. The “customer-for-life” concept plays big in Japan. It’s a great thing, but also why many shops are having to close their doors. It can be very difficult to bring in new business with so much loyalty, already established.
With that said, it’s a very exciting time for enthusiasts here in the states. We’re starting to see a similar trend of really awesome tuning shops popping up all over the country. Shops that care about their customers and are passionate about what they do. They’re not in it for the industry hype, or to live in some false lifestyle. It’s just about being around cars all day long. While I love the Japanese tuning industry more than any, I predict the US surpassing it eventually. We are already building cars just as fast and exciting as our Japanese counterparts and I only see this becoming more prevalent. Especially since it’s becoming more difficult to source the parts and build a JDM-inspired car.
I may be getting on the extreme end of this discussion, but it’s definitely something to think about.